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New area legislators sworn into office

Jodi Emerson was excited about the experience of her first day as a legislator. Emerson, D-Eau Claire, was sworn in to her Assembly seat Monday afternoon.

“It was an absolute honor to have my friends and family here, and to be sworn in by Justice (Rebecca) Dallet,” Emerson said. “It was a beautiful ceremony, and it was filled with excitement. I’m excited about this session. There is a lot of excitement in the building; I heard from a lot of people that they haven’t felt that excitement in a while.”

Along with Emerson, Jesse James, R-Altoona, also was sworn in to office for the first time. The former Altoona police chief resigned his post last week ahead of being sworn in as Assemblyman. He was joined by 10 friends and family members, including all four of his children.

“I’m very excited,” James said. “I’m very honored and blessed to be serving the people of the 68th Assembly District. The reality hasn’t quite set in yet. But with my loved ones being down here, making the day of it, it was just quite an honor.”

With the swearing in and oath of office, the legislators took turns signing an official book, Emerson said. A few people spoke, and the legislators did some “housekeeping measures” of selecting some leaders of the party.

“It was very quick,” James said with a laugh of his first votes on the floor. “It was minor stuff, but it was exciting to be able to push that green button.”

Before running for office, Emerson worked for Fierce Freedom, which is an advocacy group promoting awareness of human trafficking. Emerson said that topic wouldn’t necessarily be among the first bills she sponsors.

“I’ve got my staff working on bills that are my own ideas,” she added.

Likewise, James said he’s eager to start working on bills on corrections and law enforcement matters and aiding children and families. One key goal is to create legislation that curtails the meth and opioid epidemic, he said.

“That’s where my passion is,” James said. “If we can address that, it will make our families better.”

Emerson replaces Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, in the Legislature. James replaces Rep. Kathy Bernier, who moved to the Senate, claiming the seat previously held by the retiring Terry Moulton.

State Sen. Jeff Smith, D-town of Brunswick, also officially returned to the Legislature Monday. However, with only half of the Senate up every two years, he was among just 17 senators sworn in Monday.

“It is unique, because of the four-year terms,” Smith said. “It’s always great to share the big moments with family and friends.”

Smith agreed with Emerson that he heard a lot of positive comments about the changes, particularly after hearing a speech from Gov. Tony Evers.

“It gives us a lot of optimism, for a vibrant and new vision,” he said.

Smith said the first bill he would like to sign on for is redistricting reform.

“It’s really hit home with people, who didn’t realize how (gerrymandering) worked before,” Smith said.

Smith held the 93rd Assembly seat from 2007 until 2011. He lost his seat to Republican Warren Petryk in November 2010; he ran against Petryk again in 2014 but also lost. Smith replaces Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, who did not seek re-election after 12 years in the Senate.

Democratic Wisconsin governor takes office, urges compromise

MADISON — Newly sworn-in Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers called for a rejection of “the tired politics of the past” in his inauguration speech Monday, urging lawmakers to find bipartisan solutions to the biggest issues facing the state.

Evers, the state superintendent of schools since 2009, took over for Republican Scott Walker and faces a Republican-controlled Legislature that will oppose many of his biggest priorities. Republican legislative leaders, also speaking on inauguration day, echoed Evers’ call for bipartisanship but said they wouldn’t back down in the face of a new Democratic governor.

“We must turn the page on the tired politics of the past, we must lead by example,” Evers said during his inauguration address in the rotunda of the state Capitol. “It’s time to remake and repair our state and reclaim our better history. The people of Wisconsin demanded a change this November, and that change is coming.”

Evers called for transcending divisiveness.

“May we have courage in our conscience,” Evers said. “And may we be willing to do what’s best for the next generation rather than the next election.”

Evers’ ascendance as governor marks a new era in Wisconsin politics, ending eight years of Republican dominance. It also marks the first time since 1986 that all constitutional officers are Democrats.

Evers called for a return to the values of kindness, respect and civility, and he urged Republicans and Democrats to set aside party allegiances to work for a greater good. While some have said divided government is a recipe for gridlock, Evers called for compromise.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Rochester said some may expect the Assembly to “veer into the left lane” now that Evers is governor, but the body will have to move down the center and Evers won’t “drive the car alone.”

“I promise you over the next two years, we will not let government expand at the expense of your freedoms,” Vos said.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau told reporters that he opposes Evers’ call to raise the minimum wage. But he’s also warning GOP senators to think twice before pursuing bills on topics like abortions and “some Second Amendment stuff” that they know Evers won’t sign into law.

Evers emphasized his campaign priorities, including fully funding public schools “at every level” from pre-kindergarten through college; making health care more affordable and accessible; and improving the conditions of Wisconsin’s roads.

“We cannot fix these problems unless people come before politics,” Evers said. “We’ve become paralyzed by polarity and we’ve become content with division. We’ve been indifferent to resentment and governing by retribution.”

This marks the first time since 2006, when Democrat Jim Doyle was governor, that the entire Legislature is controlled by the opposite party of the governor. In 2007 and 2008, Doyle was governor and Democrats had control of the Senate, but Republicans had the Assembly. In 2009 and 2010 Democrats controlled everything, and since 2011 Republicans had it all.

Walker and Doyle were joined by three other former Wisconsin governors at the inauguration: Tommy Thompson, Scott McCallum and Martin Schreiber. Among the others who attended were both of Wisconsin’s U.S. senators, Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin, members of Congress, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and numerous past office holders.

Evers took the oath of office from Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Pat Roggensack.

In addition to Evers, all other constitutional officers elected in November were also sworn into office. Those were Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Attorney General Josh Kaul, Treasurer Sarah Godlewski and Secretary of State Doug La Follette. La Follette is the only incumbent.

Barnes, the first African American lieutenant governor in Wisconsin history, said “the gravity of this moment is not lost on me as we strive for equity.”

Newly elected members of the Legislature also took office. In the Assembly, 63 Republicans and 36 Democrats were seated. Of them, eight Republicans and seven Democrats are new, including 19-year-old Kalan Haywood, the youngest member of the Legislature.

In the Senate, 11 Republicans and six Democrats took office. Of them, three Republicans and one Democrat are new. Republicans hold a 19-14 majority.

Beehive safety in parks debated

Before they might open up selected Eau Claire parks to beekeepers, City Council members want more details as they grapple with how that could affect residents who are allergic to the insects’ stings.

The council discussed potential changes Monday night to its ordinance that allows beekeeping, which are expected to come back for a vote later this month after undergoing some revision.

“Overall I like the direction this is going,” Councilman Jeremy Gragert said.

The changes would ease requirements for people seeking a license to have beehives in their backyards for personal use, while also allowing beekeeping in parts of six city-owned public spaces.

While overall supportive, Gragert, like several of his colleagues, said he wanted public space requirements fleshed out more before the ordinance returns for consideration in two weeks.

Beekeepers would be required to set up barriers around hives in parks, which would be locked but accessible to them and city workers. Exactly what form those barriers are — a fine mesh or wooden fencing, for example — is not yet specified.

Councilman Terry Weld wanted the ordinance to include details about those enclosures before he’s ready to vote on it.

Councilwoman Kate Beaton is enthusiastic about expanding beekeeping to parks, especially those already used by community members for gardening.

“I think that beekeeping could be a new form of urban gardening,” she said.

However, she agreed with Weld that details about fencing or other barriers for hives in parks need to be specified.

Changes to the beekeeping ordinance were brought forward by acting council President Andrew Werthmann in October. After debate during a meeting, the council opted to delay a decision to allow further study into those changes in January.

While other Wisconsin cities do allow backyard beekeeping, city staff said Eau Claire would be an exception if the hobby is approved for parks.

“We would be the first to allow public space beekeeping,” assistant city attorney Jenessa Stromberger said.

Six city-owned public spaces — Archery, Demmler and Fairfax parks, the Forest Street greenway, Jeffers Road Green Waste Site and property donated by the Keyes property south of Eau Claire — would be added as places for beekeeping under the proposed changes.

City staffers noted they had some concerns with expanding the beekeeping law to public parks because of having high number of bees around people who may be allergic to them.

“Our objection initially was because of the safety,” said Jeff Pippenger, director of community services. “Not everybody carries their EpiPen with them.”

But he noted his department would have discretion in approving hives and their locations within the parks.

Councilman David Strobel said he supported the first beekeeping ordinance because it sounded like a hobby for residents, but noted the changes would allow a person to have up to 49 hives in the city.

“At what point does it become a business?” he said.

Demmler and Archery parks would each be limited to eight bee colonies because of their smaller acreage. But both Fairfax Park and the Keyes property are large enough to allow the maximum of 49 hives.

“I think if we’re going to get into the public space, I’d like to keep it to the hobby level,” Strobel said.

Werthmann’s proposal also would ease requirements on beekeepers for getting a permit to keep hives in their backyards.

Currently the city requires consent form signed by at least 80 percent of neighbors within 100 feet of beekeeper’s land. The proposed changes would still notify people within 100 feet, but only those within 50 feet could submit a written objection within two weeks of a neighbor applying for a beekeeping license. Those objections would then be heard by the City Council, which would decide if the license should still be granted.

Eau Claire’s written consent requirement is the most stringent for backyard beekeeping permit requirements in the state, and most cities use a notice and objection process instead, said Matt Steinbach, environmental sciences division manger at the Eau Claire City-County Health Department.

Eau Claire first allowed beekeeping in Febraury 2015, but less than five people apply annually for a permit in the city, Steinbach said.

“We have not had a large interest in beekeeping in the city at this point,” he said.

Trump heads to TV, border as fed workers face paycheck sting

WASHINGTON — With no breakthrough in sight, President Donald Trump will argue his case to the nation Tuesday night that a “crisis” at the U.S.-Mexico border requires the long and invulnerable wall he’s demanding before ending the partial government shutdown. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers face missed paychecks Friday as the shutdown drags through a third week.

Trump’s Oval Office speech — his first as president — will be followed by his visit Thursday to the southern border to highlight his demand for a barrier. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted that he will use the visit to “meet with those on the front lines of the national security and humanitarian crisis.”

The administration is also at least talking about the idea of declaring a national emergency to allow Trump to move forward on the wall without Congress approving the $5.6 billion he wants. Vice President Mike Pence said the White House counsel’s office is looking at the idea. Such a move would certainly draw legal challenges, and Trump — who told lawmakers he would be willing to keep the government closed for months or even years — has said he would like to continue negotiations for now.

Trump’s prime-time address will be carried live by ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox Broadcasting, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, MSNBC and NBC.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer called on the networks to give Democrats a chance to respond. “Now that the television networks have decided to air the President’s address, which if his past statements are any indication will be full of malice and misinformation, Democrats must immediately be given equal airtime,” they wrote in a joint statement released Monday night.

As Trump’s speech and border visit were announced, newly empowered House Democrats — and at least a few Republican senators — stepped up pressure on GOP lawmakers to reopen the government without giving in to the president’s demands The closure, which has lasted 17 days, is already the second-longest in history and would become the longest this weekend.

Leaning on Senate Republicans, some of whom are growing anxious about the impact of the shutdown, Pelosi said the House would begin passing individual bills this week that would reopen federal agencies, starting with the Treasury Department to ensure Americans receive their tax refunds .

The White House moved to pre-empt the Democrats, telling reporters Monday that tax refunds would be paid despite the shutdown. That shutdown exemption would break from the practice of earlier administrations and could be challenged.

“There is an indefinite appropriation to pay tax refunds. As a result ... the refunds will go out as normal,” said Russell Vought, acting director of the White House budget office.

There were other signs that administration was working to control the damage from the shutdown, which has furloughed 380,000 federal workers and forced another 420,000 to work without pay. The National Park Service said it was dipping into entrance fees to pay for staffing at some highly visited parks to maintain restrooms, clean up trash and patrol the grounds, after reports of human waste and garbage overflowing in some spots.

Over the weekend, the federal agency tasked with guaranteeing U.S. airport security acknowledged an increase in the number of its employees missing work or calling in sick.

But Trump and the Transportation Security Administration pushed back on any suggestion that the call-outs at the agency represented a “sickout” that was having a significant effect on U.S. air travel. TSA said it screened more than 2.2 million passengers Sunday, a historically busy day due to holiday travel. Ninety percent waited less than 15 minutes, the agency said.

“We are grateful to the more than 51,000 agents across the country who remain focused on the mission and are respectful to the traveling public,” said TSA spokesman Michael Bilello.

The talks over ending the shutdown have been at an impasse over Trump’s demand for the wall. He has offered to build the barrier with steel rather than concrete, billing that as a concession to Democrats’ objections. They “don’t like concrete, so we’ll give them steel,” he said.

But Democrats have made clear that they object to the wall itself, not how it’s constructed. They see it as immoral and ineffective and prefer other types of border security funded at already agreed-upon levels.

“Maybe he thinks he can bully us. But I’m from Brooklyn. You let a bully succeed, you’ll be bullied again worse,” Schumer said at a breakfast with the Association for a Better New York.

At the White House, spokeswoman Mercedes Schlapp complained that Democratic leaders have yet to define what they mean when they say they are for enhancing border security.

“Democrats want to secure the border? Great. Come to the table,” she said Monday. “We are willing to come to a deal to reopen the government.”

Trump has tasked Pence during the shutdown fight to negotiate with Democrats, including during talks over the weekend with Democratic staffers. But the vice president is increasingly being called upon to prevent defections in the GOP ranks.

Asked whether cracks were forming between the White House and Republicans eager for the shutdown to end, Pence told reporters, “We’ve been in touch with those members and others.”

He said that he and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen would be at the Capitol Tuesday and Wednesday to brief lawmakers.

Among the Republicans expressing concern was Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should take up funding bills from the Democratic-led House.

“Let’s get those reopened while the negotiations continue,” Collins said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

However, McConnell has said he won’t take up funding bills without Trump’s support.

Adding to concerns of lawmakers, federal workers who are still on the job apparently will miss this week’s paychecks. Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that if the shutdown continues into Tuesday, “then payroll will not go out as originally planned on Friday night.”

Trump asserted that he could relate to the plight of the federal workers who aren’t getting paid, though he acknowledged they will have to “make adjustments” to deal with the shutdown shortfall.

Not so easy, many of them say.

Derrick Padilla, a corrections officer with the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Colorado, has worked without pay for two weeks and said he’s nearly depleted his savings.

“It’s now becoming a game of, ‘OK, who’s going to get paid? How am I going to make this payment? What’s the most important thing I have to pay for this month?’” he said.

“The bills don’t go away,” Padilla added. “We’re expected to meet our financial obligations, and we’re being put in a position to not be able to meet those obligations.”

For furloughed federal workers in Washington, some at least could enjoy the prospect of baseball in a few months. The Washington Nationals said season ticket holders who are laid off or not being paid by the federal government could postpone monthly ticket payments until the government is back up and running.


Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Kevin Freking and Juliet Linderman in Washington, Alex Sanz in Atlanta and David R. Martin in New York contributed to this report.


Julian Emerson / File photo 


Alex Brandon 

President Donald Trump speaks on the South Lawn of the White House as he walks to Marine One, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019, in Washington. Trump is en route to Camp David. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)